City of Nizams is the apt sobriquet for Hyderabad. One has to just step into the city to realize that almost everything in the city has an imprint of the bygone era of the Nizams.
We decided to spend the Easter break at Hyderabad and, did not regret the decision. If you are wondering why I mention the term regret at all, well, it was because I was warned that this was the worst possible time to visit the city, with temperatures hovering around 40 degrees centigrade. Well, it was hot all right, but certainly not as bad as it was made to sound. Kept cool by having my sun-hat on and a bottle of water by my side.
When I heard the name Hyderabad, the images that came to my mind were of biryani, pearls, nizams, palaces and forts. Not necessarily in the order mentioned of course! If you are thinking you will require an extended period of time to savour all things Hyderabadi, well I can personally assure you, that we were able to appreciate quite a bit of the city even on our 3 day visit.
The spanking new Rajiv Gandhi International Airport at Shamshabad provided an apt welcome to my maiden visit to the city. Sparse showers had cooled down the city by a few degrees and provided the much needed respite.
Before we ventured into the city in the evening we relaxed with some hot Irani chai and Osmania biscuits. For the uninitiated Irani chai is a one of the must tries at the city. Made from brewed tea leaves and condensed milk: I was told on many occasions even some poppy husks are brewed in it. Caveat, it is on the sweeter side, and that explains why it is served in small cups, 2 or 3 sips and one is done!
Refreshed, we headed for the Hussain Sagar Lake. While big and small speed boats were available, we decided to get aboard one of the family boats run by Andhra Tourism department to reach the small island, where the serene statue of Buddha stands. The golden glow of the dipping sun, the cool evening breeze and the soft ripples of water was an ideal way to say adieu to the hectic day. Some more chai and hot somas happened on the boat.
A good night’s rest at a friends heritage home and we were all set to explore the city further. Our first stop was Ramoji Film City. Though it was almost an hour’s drive out of the city limits, the film city is worth a visit. Ramoji, I would say is the Indian version of the popular Universal Studios. Personally for me the best part was the live film making process, a must-see, even at the cost of missing the other delights. Special buses and carriages (depending upon the package one had taken) take one around the FilmCity. TheFilmCity includes believable film sets of a typical Indian village, Hawa Mahal,ElloraCaves, and even Mughal gardens. Small wonder why the place is such a hit with filmmakers. In fact we were lucky to catch a glimpse of two live film shoots in progress. Phew! It is loads of hard work I tell you. It looks all so simple on screen, though.
My tip, if you are pressed for time, take the carriage tour and skip Fundoostan ( wherein children of all ages can play loads of games) but take time out to see lights, camera action show, i.e the film making process.
We had lunch at Tara, one of the hotels atFilmCity which served a pretty decent buffet which included both vegetarian and non vegetarian fare. As time was at a premium we decided to leave post lunch, since we were keen to see Golkonda Fort in day light and also catch their popular sound and light show. After all, what better way to soak in the history of the place than visit the city’s most famous fort?
Golkonda or Golla konda as it was previously known is an absolute must visit. Before, I elucidate the reason why; let me illuminate the term Golla Konda. Golla in the local language Telegu means ‘shepherd’, so essentially a shepherd hill in times bygone. Legend says that it used to be a mud structure built initially by the Kakatiya dynasty. But it gained glory and patronage during the Qutub Shahi dynasty. If the vintage names are making you feel confused and you feel over laden with too much info, do not worry I will not go into further details. Another small nugget of information – Ibrahim Qutb Shah Wali was one of the foremost patrons of the fort. He was responsible for patronizing the local poets, arts and craft which includes the Telegu language and Kuchipudi (the classical dance from Andhra Pradesh). Ibrahim Qutb was essentially a poet and an artist at heart. Small wonder Ibrahim Qutb Shah Wali ‘s love for his beloved, Bhageerathi is a stuff of romantic folk lore now. One wondered why we do not have such passionate love stories now.
The fort though in ruins now, has a certain romanticism to it. The ruins comes alive thanks to the well maintained gardens, informed guides and the sound-and-light show which tries to capture the history, grandeur and passion of the Qutub Shahi rulers. The deep baritone of Amitabh Bachchan and the mellifluous voice of Jagjit Singh, make the sound-and-light show an absolute treat to watch and listen. Watch, because of the superb lighting that they do.
It was late evening, well almost 8 pm by the time the English version got over and we had to head back to the city. The ride back was not so pleasant, since one wanted to stay on a little more and enjoy the Fort on a full moon night. Yes, we were lucky; to be there on a full moon night. The fort was awash with moon light. The dark shadows of the ruins heightened the sense of intrigue, drama and legend.
A six course sumptuous dinner of local delights at our host’s residence and thus the day ended on a perfect note.
How can Hyderabad visit be complete, without having visited the Charminar? By 11 am we were already up there on its first storey, trying to spot the other famous spots, which include the Jama Masjid, one of the old Nizam’s palaces, the famed bazaars in and around the Charminar and the FaluknamaPalace perched on the hill top.
The walk up the circular winding stone steps, which gradually sort of tapered was fun, but the walk down was terrifying for me. I have a morbid fear of heights and get pangs of claustrophobia in too closed spaces. It was worth it though.
Built by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, the Charimar is beautiful even post 418 odd years. The 4 minarets with its delicate small arches (typical Mughal style architecture), looks very picturesque, and no wonder is the most identifiable structure of Hyderabad.
One unique aspect of the Charminar (out of the many), which caught my attention, was the lotus design on the ceiling. One can view it better, when one is on the first storey. According to our guide, the lotus represents the auspicious flower used for the worship of Hindu Goddess Lakshmi and also as the reversed prayer cap of the Muslims. Exceptional, is it not? What a beautiful amalgamation of different religious thoughts. Sigh, where has the sense of harmony gone from people now, sad to see the ruckus being caused for Telengana.
Could not have left Charminar, without visiting the famous Lad Street (one of the bylanes next to the monument). Wondering what Lad or Laad as it is known as, is famous for? They are known for the rows of shops selling the famed colourful Hyderabadi bangles. A must see, to get a feel of the local craft, even if one is not keen on buying any for personal use. Just like, I did not, since I was saving my monies for some Hyderabadi pearls!
All that walking up and down the Charminar had made me hungry and we decided make a pit stop at Paradise. We just did not seem to be getting enough of their biryanis. In case you are vegetarian, try their veggie version, pretty good I tell you.
Visit to Hyderabad can never be complete, without having visited the Salar Jung Museum. Situated next to the Musi river (the river flows through the city, unfortunately a thin dry stream when I saw it), Salar Jung is one of the largest museums in the country.
The museum essentially houses objects d’art collected across three generations of the same family, i.e the Salar Jung family. Point to be noted is that Salar Jung was a title awarded by the Nizams. The most prolific collector was Mir Yousuf Ali Khan (Salar Jung III), who was the Prime Minister of the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad. Visitors to the museum can get a glimpse of how he looked and used to be, since there are numerous portraits and even articles of personal use on display. Salar Jung III as he is popularly known as (small wonder, since the entire name Mir Yousuf Ali Khan is quite a mouthful) had a charmed life I would say. Because all he was required to do was to visit different parts of the world in search of unique and rare works of art. He hobnobbed with people who could offer him something exclusive, and yes, they got a good price for it too.
With approximately 30 plus galleries, even an entire day is not enough to completely see the museum properly. And this, when, only about thirty percent of the artefacts are on display! Yes, just thirty percent. How do I know this figure? We happened to have a small chat with the museum director, who said so.
So what does one do, if one is strapped for time but still would like to visit and appreciate what is it that makes the museum so popular? Try and take a walk past all the galleries, a slow walk, so that while you are not rushing though, you are still able to get a feel of what sort of artefacts the 30 percent of the showcased collection displays. On your walk through, keep a look out for some piece-de-resistance artefacts like the famed Veiled Rebecca: sheer poetry carved out of a single block of marble. It is amazing how the artist Benzoni has captured the intricate folds of the dress and veil. Tipu Sultan’s sword in the Artillery gallery, ShahJahean’s ring, with inscriptions from the Koran and Mumtaz Mahal’s be-jewelled fruit knife (in the Jade gallery). The ivory gallery is breath taking in terms of the intricate carvings done from elephant tusks – look out for sofa sets in ivory, chess tables, etc.
In the European gallery which houses paintings from well known European artists like John Constable, Canaletto too, the most stunning figure according to me on display is the double-walnut-wood- figure of Mephistopheles. The name of the artist seems to have been forgotten in the passage of time, since no mention of it was there. In order to highlight the opposite sides of the figure, Mephistopheles is aptly placed in front of a huge mirror. The alternative different expressions (that of the demonic Mephestopheles and the demure-soft-featured Margeretta reflected in the mirror) of the double figure are carved to perfection. This one sculpture seems to encapsulate Faust’s legend completely. Even those who have not read Faust would be able to understand the basic essence of the famed German work, post having a look at the statue.
The Eastern galleries which include artefacts from China and Japan are stupendous too. Look out for framed silk-thread needle work pictures which look like paintings, but are not. Every-day-items of use from the Ming dynasty on display makes one swoon, not just in terms of how well preserved they are, but also how far back in time it makes one’s imagination go. It all seems all so far away, especially in the current times of disposable plates, cups and spoons.
The museum is being renovated; two more floors are coming up, visitors in the future will get to see more special displays. Was hoping to have a glimpse of the Nizam’s jewels, but they are on display only on special permission. Some other time hopefully, will get to see them. I live in fond hope. I love seeing pretty jewels, more so if they happen to be from a bygone era.
In case you happen to be inside Salar Jung when the hour clock strikes, do make it a point to catch a glimpse of the chiming clock, which has an elaborate and intricate chime process. A drummer comes out from the curtains to strike and then goes back again. It is amazing that it works, since it is more than 100 plus years old. I was so thrilled on watching it, that I almost clapped in delight!
Harindranath Chattopadhyay in praise of Salar Jung had said, “The only museum in India that provides a true vision of Indian art in the context of International Art. This museum is the first liberal university in the country”. For those not in the know, Harindranath Chattopadhyay, brother of Sarojini Naidu, was a well known poet and actor (in Hindi as well as in Bengali movies) who served as a Lok Sabha member in the Hyderabad constituency.
Charminar and Salar Jung in one day; I was truly trapped mentally in a different era. Ended the day with good food, conversations and a smile on my face. Looking forward to the next morning, dedicated to Chowmahalla Palace and some retail therapy! How, can one leave a place without picking up some mementoes, right?
Chowmahalla Palace, so named because of the presence of 4 palaces. The palace which is now run by the private trustees of the descendents of the 8th Nizam of Hyderabad, who soon left the country, post his coronation at this very palace. Chowmahallah was the seat of power and official residence of the Nizams of Hyderabad. It is amazingly well maintained and the huge Belgian crystal chandeliers in the durbar hall of the palace (known as Khilawat Mubarak) actually were twinkling in the morning light. I spent some time wondrously gazing at these crystal beauties adorned with delicate pure gold work. Tried imaging what it will be like, when all the 19 odd crystal chandeliers are lit. If one has the money, one can actually rent some parts of the Chowmahallah Palace for a private function. The patterned black and white marble flooring and the crystal chandeliers above, makes the place look straight out of a vintage story.
Out of the 4 palaces, there are two which are open for public viewing. Almost similar in design in structure, one of the four palaces showcases the apparel from the era. A must see. Stunning silver and gold zardozi work on apparel makes one appreciate the art of embroidery which was so prevalent in those times. Khada Dupatta is part of the apparel which the royal ladies wore. Khada Dupatta is no ordinary duppata , it was 6 yards, yes the size of a regular saree! It was a hallmark costume of the zenana and was a must. My mind boggled at the amount of heavy clothing these ladies wore and here I was sweating in morning heat wearing a light summer dress.
Numerous rooms in the palace showcase the items of personal use of the Nizams, which includes gold leafed porcelain dinner ware, artillery and even some bit of furniture which was in use. The most popular object of admiration is surely the canary yellow Rolls Royce with gold mountings which was especially made for the sixth Nixam, but delivered during the rein of the 7th Nizam (the last ruling Nizam of Hyderabad). The car is special indeed and has been sparingly taken out; it has just done 356 miles in the last 100 years. In perfect working condition, it won the Cartier Travel award, which was held inDelhi in the year 2011. A 100 year car in working condition, now that’s cool.
Lounged in the adjoining garden of the Durbar Hall for some time, trying to imagine what it must have been like when the palace was alive in its full glory. Our guide was most courteous and offered us some sweet Irani chai and salted Osmaina biscuits. Post some chai and biscuits decided to get down on my next mission. Retail therapy!
Was tempted to pick up a pack of the famous dry-fruit biscuits from Karachi Bakery, but then desisted. After all I would end up having most of them! Better, not to have temptations lying around, there are enough already to make me go weak-kneed! Could make this well meaning decision, all thanks to the humongous breakfast we had with our hosts.
A lover of the sensual six yards, I just had to pick up atleast one intrinsic weave from Hyderabad and yes, the pearls ofcourse! For the benefit of those not too aware of what the intrinsic weaves of Andhra are, here go the names: Upada, Gadhwal, Pochampalli and Drarmavarams. There are some more, but cannot seem to remember them.
Full of antiquated memories, we were ready to bid the City of Nizams adieu. Though there was a tinge of sadness: had to leave Hyderabad without having paid a visit to Faluknama Palace. One of the finest palaces of the Nizam’s in Hyderabad, Faluknama is now a luxe hotel since 2010; post almost a 10 year renovation period.
As they say, if you want to re-visit any place once again, leave some part of it unexplored. One day I hope to come back to the city again to experience the unfinished delights and create some more memories.
Before I sign off, just in case if any of you reading is wondering why I have titled the blog as Hyderabad blues and greens, is because post my trip to the city I have come to love these two colours; have never before seen the colours emerald green and turquoise blue look so stunning and rich. If you are still thinking I am a bit hyperbolic, check out the beautiful chandeliers in the blues and greens!